The life cycle of trees offer eloquent lessons for us all
Coming to Houston amidst complete upheaval of the life I knew in New York City has led me to a place of deep surrender. I say this with the grace with which only hindsight can gift us.
After living in New York for seventeen years, everything there had dried up for me by August of 2017: my marriage, my living arrangements, my job, my relationships. The feeling of alienation had reached such intensity that when I walked amongst the buildings, I sensed the city as a giant mouth with steel teeth chewing up my insides. It spit me out. I had to go. Still, when I got to Houston I wondered: ‘Why am I here?’ To be honest, it was not the first time. Five years ago I had come here, to my brother’s, for respite from the chaos of navigating the world and trying to pay Brooklyn rent as a young mother, reiki master, writer, and deeply sensitive human being.
The difference between then and now is that at the time, I simply could not see myself ever willingly staying in Houston. It just was not my speed and New York still beckoned. So, back I went and did it all again, to the point of absolute exhaustion. This time around, Houston is still not my speed — but that is not a bad thing. My speed was killing me. It was denying my son the opportunity and the room to unfurl his spirit. New York is still an amazing city. But we are here. In Houston. Now.
Every day when my son and I wake up, the first view we have as the sun rises is that of the grove of trees in the adjoining arboretum.
The oaks have been my silent witnesses, patiently waiting for me to begin to understand why I ended up here, again.
Wisdom of the ages holds that if a person spends enough time in a natural setting, nature will begin to reveal her secrets to that individual. How mystical that sounds. In my mind, that means that one would have to sleep, sit, roam in the great outdoors, exposed to the elements, assuming a hermit-like existence in order to experience some great ‘reveal’. You would think that being born and raised in Dominica, Nature Island of the Caribbean, that the absurdity of those ideas would be apparent to me. But, seventeen years of living in a big city with all of the inevitable cultural assimilation had distorted what I already subconsciously knew as an island girl: We are always surrounded by, and part of, nature. The extent to which we are in communion with this is the extent to which we are conscious of our own internal nature.
Nevertheless, being a transplant in Houston with very few commitments has allowed me the luxury of periods of total silence as I build my local connections and resources. What that means is that I have been able to fall into undisturbed introspection. Admittedly, the void has felt uncomfortable at times, but I see now how necessary it has been, preparing me for the subdued exchange which I was about to experience. Over the past few months, I have found that I have become increasingly sensitive to my environment and my intuition is crystal clear. More and more, the trees outside have become a focal point for me, since I spend so much of my time either looking at them or sitting amongst them.
I always knew that the trees were there, but the first time I became aware of them was one morning, after my son had left for school, as I did my short vinyasa flow facing the glass door which opens onto the park. I stood there in tree pose and a subtle but very clear realization dawned upon me. Here I was facing the tree… a mirror, in that moment in the literal sense.
Yet greater still was the understanding that I was discovering a perfect reflection of life itself. Breathing deeply, I simply said thank you.
I continued to do my practice every morning in this way. I continued to go out and sit in the park during the day when the weather was warm enough and most importantly, I continued to say thank you. One day as I was sitting at the dining room table writing, I looked outside and in doing so, my attention was pulled by a particular tree. Automatically, I knew that the next time I went to the park I had to sit on the roots of that tree. I put my shoes on a little later and headed out. I sat on the roots of the tree. I felt nothing. Instead I tried to stop myself from constantly thinking: “I’m sitting on the roots of a tree.”
The next day, in tree pose again, I paused for a little longer than usual. I looked at the tree outside and for the first time understood that I was also being looked at. I considered what made this life form a ‘tree’. I considered what made my person ‘me’. We are both here. We are both breathing. We are both beholding the ‘other’. . . but only one of us identifies with the feeling of being out of place. Only one of us feels ‘uprooted’. Only one of us is in ‘crisis’. The other just is.
In that tiny stillness a question emerged: “What do you want to show me?” I asked.
The answer came in waves. First as an understanding that in just beholding and mirroring, I already knew. Then, over the next few days, as I contemplated this experience, I heard these words:Root. Reach. Rise. Receive. Reciprocate.
Gently, I turned the words over in my mind and finally sat down to write my thoughts. I share this in the hope that it is a small part of your own regeneration. Here is what came to me as I wrote:
There is a reason it is called the ‘root chakra’. Rooting is essential to the life of a tree. Without its roots, a tree will die. The root system is responsible for the tree’s stability and nourishment and, as Western science has confirmed, it is a highly sensitive communication network, sub-terraneously transmitting information to and from other plant forms.
Marcus Garvey said that a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture are like a tree without roots. He was speaking about Diasporic African people, left bereft of the continuity of our ancestral and cultural networks due to the transatlantic slave trade. But it is no less applicable to the individual, regardless of background, who may be rudderless or carrying generations of baggage of which she is unaware. Rooting, in this sense, is twofold; it means establishing a firm foundation in the third dimensional reality as well as acknowledging the patterns that we have inherited. The two are deeply intertwined and facilitate a successful physical life on this planet. Healing begins at the root level. Know your roots.
At first, a seed that has been planted will remain hidden for a time after it has sprouted in the fertile ground that has enabled its germination. This is the foundational stage. But, if it is to grow into a tree, it cannot do so forever. Its nature mandates that it must break the surface and be seen. The first shoots are tender and vulnerable, but there is an inbuilt hardiness because survival is important.
When we reach, we are expressing our desires. To be witnessed. To be counted. Yes, we are tender. We are not yet confident of our ability to push through. But, just like a seedling, we root in darkness and move toward the light. We reach for something greater than what we have known. We are willing to be seen. Being fed directly by sun rays and rain, as a course of nature we will grow. Trust the tender yearnings of your heart. They will grow. You will grow.
If the seedling survives, if it is firmly rooted, if it consistently reaches its way to the sun and stands, it will grow. It will rise into the next phase of its life, where we look upon it and call it a tree. No one can deny that it is this thing. When we know who we are, why we are here, why we must stand firm, we are rising. As we rise, we become more visible and firm. We are more exposed to the elements, yet more able to withstand them.
Is there greater risk in rising? Yes. But the rewards are so much more abundant. It is designed this way. We are given, in increments, that which we are able to handle. If you root and reach, you will rise.
The truth is that a tree is always receiving. Have you ever seen a mango tree or a poinsettia tree which refuses to receive? Do trees shy away from the sustenance that keeps them alive? No. They stand there and suck up every last bit of nutrients they need out of the soil, bask in the sunlight, drink up the rain.
Look at the branches of the tree; they extend outward shamelessly, like open arms. Ready to receive. At the same time, beneath these branches, small animals and other plants take shelter. An entire eco-system is being sustained. This is how the cycle is completed. Do you understand how receiving is tied to the flow of the Universe? Do you block the flow in your life by not knowing how to receive?
A tree knows that it is entitled to survive and thrive. It absorbs only the resources it needs to remain here and no more. No apologies necessary. No complexes about taking up space. It just is. In being what it is programmed to be, it is in a continuous and sacred exchange with life on this Earth. Through photosynthesis, trees give back so much more value to our lives than they demand from the cycle. It is a fact that if there are no trees, there will be no human life on this planet. Imagine that!
The most important life form on earth exerts no force to accomplish its tasks. It convinces no one of its worth. It does not compare itself to other trees. Neither does it fold up its branches for fear that it is giving away too much oxygen, or providing too much shade. It simply stands there, rooted, reaching and rising. In just being, it restores the fabric of life.
Why do we as human beings convolute our existence? What part of our nature has been hidden from us that we do not understand the beauty of our authentic presence? In this state, we give naturally.
We are enough. You are enough. There is enough. Reciprocating simply means replenishing the life cycle.
When I read these words, I immediately understood how thirsty I had been for the simple and profound reminder that life is a process. We are all reaching. We are all supported. Nature is always teaching us by example, always revealing our roots. The key is to simply be present and let it take its course. Though we rise in healing, it has nothing to do with ambition or control. There is only surrender — to ourselves, to the inevitable cycle of receiving and reciprocating, to the effortless flow of replenishing.
You may also enjoy reading Rooted in Nature: Planting the Seeds for a Relationship with My Autistic Son Through Our Love of Trees by Clemens G. Arvay